The Sea Salt's Tale: Introduction

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  • : Function ereg() is deprecated in /home/theresab/goodshipwhitestar.com/includes/file.inc on line 647.

The Introduction
A tale? Aye, I'll tell ye a tale. Not just any tale either. The tale. Sit down and get comfortable, we may be here for a while.

Why, I remember it clearly. I was but a swab in those days, not much more than a boy, really. We were on the waters of the eastern Mediterranean. It was one of those rare occasions on those far waters when, what little breeze there is, comes from the east. Normally, cool clean air flows from the west and north on the Mediterranean, making even the hottest days in the hottest months a joy on the open waters. Not that day, no, the air came from the east, up from the Arabian Desert. The air barely moved and it was hotter than hell. The White Star sat on the glass-like water as if moored there. Three days we had been sitting there in that unbearable heat and stagnation. The entire crew was miserable. There wasn’t a bit of sailing to be done. There wasn’t enough breeze to even get a small flap out of the sheets. The deck was spotless. Every cannon, pistol, and cutlass was oiled and polished. The crew had scrubbed the hull so many times with Marcos, the Captain had to order them to belay, in order to protect against wearing the hull thin. Except for the unfortunates whose stations for their watch were below, the entire crew was on deck or in the rigging hoping to catch some semblance of a cool breeze. Not that there was any to be had. The deck master had ordered a couple of crewmen to string up some canvas under which he fell asleep. Even the officers were on deck. The Captain was with Mordechai and Mariam, talking at the helm, working on a way to extricate the ship from the hellish spot in which we were. Quintin Lawless, the first mate, was on the rail about even with the main mast, sitting with his back to the rigging, no shirt, with his boots propped up. He was sitting there smoking his long wooden pipe, watching the unusually calm sea. The first mate sat there peacefully, quietly, as if the heat had no affect on him at all.

I am telling you this not because of the unusual heat and calm of that day, no, that day stands out in my memory because it was the first time I ever spoke with the first mate directly. You have to understand, Quintin was an excellent officer, a man the crew respected and obeyed without question, knowing his skill with his sword and more importantly the confidence the captain held in him. The first mate did not seem the most approachable individual. He was quiet with a stern expression. He rarely spoke other than to give orders. He always kept a close eye on the crew. The crew was not really afraid of the man. We had no reason to; he held the Captain’s confidence. Yet, no one really knew what he was thinking and many of us were fairly sure we did not want to.

I still can not fathom what came over me that day. Looking back on it I must have been addled by the heat, or in my boredom, I became reckless. In either case, I proceeded to gamble with my happiness in that fine ship by addressing the first mate directly. I walked over to him and stood off to his left hoping he would notice and acknowledge me. He glanced my way, took long pull on his pipe, looked back out to sea and said “what is it?”
At that point my mouth began to work on its own, it was a mutiny against every reasonable notion in my brain. “Sir, you have been watching the sea for hours, what are you looking at?” The serene expression never left his face. His eyes, on the other hand, that was a different story. When he turned his head ever so slightly and looked at me through the corners of his eyes, it seemed to me he was appraising the worth of my continued existence. The first mate’s eyes so unnerved me I began to panic. “What have I done?” I thought to myself. This is the man who doles out punishment, the Captain wouldn’t even think to ask if he flogged me, or even just grabbed me by my shirt and belt and threw me overboard. I felt cold in that ungodly heat.

Then, to my utter surprise, the slightest hint of a smile appeared on the ever stern face of the first mate. He nodded to the rail next to his boots and said “have a seat”. Not that this was overly calming. I more that half expected him to just kick me off the rail. Quintin took a few more pulls on his pipe letting the sweet smelling smoke drift up then out over the water. He continued to look out to sea or maybe beyond. I was half tempted to turn and look as if I were able to see what he was seeing. I could not bring myself to turn my back on the first mate. “This is a rare event isn’t it?” he said to me. “I have never felt such heat”, was my response. Quintin smirked. “I meant the calm, we are usually to busy to think on this ship, so rarely do we get a chance to relax and contemplate”.

I myself have never been much of a thinker, back then, when I was young, I was even less so. I blurted out “contemplating what, sir?” That hint of a smile returned to the first mate’s face. "Just now, I was contemplating the past, reminiscing on days long gone when I was much younger. You were probably still clinging to your mother’s skirts, if you were around at all.” A thousand questions seemed to explode into my mind. Who is this man? Where does he come from? What adventures had he had? How could I possibly get him to tell me any of it? Quintin continued to look out over the still water smoking his pipe. At this point I was at a total loss. Do I move or not? I had not been dismissed. I had not been asked to walk over and talk to the first mate to begin with ether.

As I was struggling within myself, trying to figure a way out of the predicament I had gotten my self into. Quintin looked over at me and said “what is it you want anyway?” Perhaps something in that exotic Arabian air must have addled my brain because I then heard myself say, “How long have you known the Captain?” The smirk returned, “Oh, since before he was a captain.” There was nothing forthcoming from the first mate, I then realized I had to keep things going or I would have to sit in silence on that rail until Quintin decided he had things to do. “How did you meet?” I asked tentatively. Quintin was silent. For what seemed an eternity I sat there watching him smoke his pipe watching the sea, eyes cast to the horizon. My nerves were beginning to fray. There I was sitting with my back to the sea and my backside on the rail with the first mate right there, so close to me. “What have I done?” “Curse this diabolical heat; it has turned my brain soft.” Those were but some of the thoughts running through my head. I sat petrified. I waited to discover the results of asking such a personal question of an officer. What would the verdict be, a charge of insubordination and a flogging? Then the first mate smiled, the genuine smile of someone recalling a happy memory from a distant time and place. “That was a long time ago.” He paused, took a few puffs of his pipe and began to tell the tale.